LEXINGTON, Ky. – For the fifth consecutive season the University of Kentucky softball team has received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament with the selection committee naming Kentucky as the No. 12 national seed and one of 16 regional host locations for the first time in program history, it was announced Sunday.
The double-elimination regional, which features four teams in Kentucky, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Marshall, will run Friday through Sunday at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky’s tournament run will start against Marshall at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday after Notre Dame and Virginia Tech begin the night at 5 p.m. ET. All games of the Lexington Regional will be on ESPN3.com.
A complete schedule of events and ticket information is posted below. More information will be available on the NCAA Tournament Central page at UKathletics.com over the next few days.
“We are very excited about hosting the NCAA Regional this weekend at John Cropp Stadium,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. “After the crowds we had this week for the SEC Tournament, I know the Big Blue Nation is going to come out in droves to provide us with a home field advantage. Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Marshall are three very good teams that present a lot of challenges. We are going to work hard this week in practice to get ready to go Friday night.”
This is the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history for Kentucky, who made its first showing in the tournament in 2009. The Wildcats went 2-2 in the tournament that season in the Columbus Regional before returning to the Columbus Regional in 2010. Kentucky won all three of its games in the 2011 Ann Arbor Regional to advance to a Super Regional for the first time in school history. The Wildcats hosted the Super Regional that season, dropping a best-of-three set to highly ranked Cal. UK went 1-2 in the 2012 Louisville Regional last season. All-time, UK is 8-8 in the NCAA Tournament. All tournament appearances have come under Lawson.
Every game from Lexington will be broadcast on ESPN3.com, marking the third consecutive season the Wildcats have been selected for a ESPN broadcast in the opening rounds of the tournament.
The Wildcats are one of 11 Southeastern Conference teams to earn a bid into the tournament, setting a conference record. The SEC has more teams in the tournament than any other conference.
Kentucky has earned 38 wins this season – the second most in school history – against some of the best teams in the nation, posting a 13-11 record in SEC action. Before falling in the first round of the SEC Tournament earlier in the week, Lawson and Co. had a historic weekend in Tuscaloosa, Ala., taking two of three games from top-10 ranked and defending national champion Alabama. The wins in Tuscaloosa were the first in school history for UK and its first-ever series win against the Tide.
The two wins over Alabama gave UK nine wins against ranked foes this season and 40 against ranked foes under Lawson, including 24 against top-10 teams. The Wildcats started the year with a win over then-No. 3 Cal while it also has wins over then-No. 3 Florida, then-No. 7 Louisville, then-No. 11 Missouri, then-No. 16 Washington, then-No. 20 Stanford and then-No. 25 North Carolina. UK has six wins over the top-16 seeded teams in the 2013 tournament field.
UK moved up in both major collegiate softball polls earlier in the week, sitting No. 15 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and No. 18 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25. UK was 19/20 last week in the polls and has been top 20 in both polls for five straight weeks. Kentucky also moved up in the NCAA RPI listing to No. 8 overall in the nation - the second highest RPI ranking in school history.
The Wildcats have played a total of 25 games against teams currently ranked or receiving votes in both polls, holding 11 wins in those games. Kentucky has wins over No. 2/3 Florida, No. 7/8 Missouri, No. 9/10 Alabama, No. 11/12 Washington, No. 11/12 Louisville, No. 13/13 Stanford, No. 17/20 Cal, No. T21/25 Arkansas, No. 24/rv USF and Western Kentucky, who is receiving votes in both polls.
Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, an All-SEC Second Team performer this season, has paced the UK offense, sitting third in average at .327 (53-for-162) with a team-high 13 doubles and 41 RBI with the second-most homers on the team with 10. Senior infielder Kara Dill, who returned from injury to start her first game since the second week of March earlier this week, is first on the team in batting average at .361 (30-for-83) with a .411 on-base percentage and 29 runs scored, while junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess is second on the team in average at .335 (61-for-182) with a team-high 11 homers in addition to 12 doubles and 39 RBI. Freshman infielder Nikki Sagermann has been swinging a hot bat recently, hitting .303 (37-for-122) with three doubles, six homers and 24 RBI. Freshman outfielder Sylver Samuel is hitting .300 (24-for-80) with a team-high 18 stolen bases, while senior outfielder Alice O’Brien is providing power in the middle of the order with seven homers, nine doubles and 31 RBI.
Freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley has been the star in the circle for Kentucky, setting a school record for wins in a season with her 24-8 record in 2013. The rookie hurler has a 2.10 ERA, striking out 175 batters in 230.1 innings pitched. The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., has already made her mark in the UK single-season record book, sitting third in ERA, second in win-loss percentage, first in wins, tied for fourth in saves, second in innings pitched, tied for third in appearances, tied for ninth in shutouts, fifth in strikeouts and seventh in opponent batting average. Nunley finished the regular season leading SEC freshman pitchers in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
Cumbess is second on the team in ERA at 4.02 with a 10-7 record, striking out 81 in 106.1 innings pitched, while freshman Katie Henderson is 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 22.1 innings pitched. Junior Ellen Weaver is 1-2 this season with a 4.69 ERA in 28.1 innings pitched.
The regional is a double-elimination format, with the winner advancing to a Super Regional against the winner of the Tempe Regional, which includes No. 5 seed Arizona State, San Jose State, San Diego State and Georgia. The Super Regional, slated for May 23-26, is a best two-of-three format with the winner advancing to the eight-team Women's College World Series, scheduled for May 30-June 5 in Oklahoma City, Okla.